The forgotten story of Victorian ‘chimney boy’ George Brewster, whose tragic death saved thousands, will be marked with Fulbourn’s Blue Plaque

His tragic death at the age of around 11 may have saved thousands of lives, and now the largely forgotten story of Victorian chimney sweep George Brewster must be recognized with the first-ever blue plaque honoring a child, writes the editor Paul Brackley.

Cambridge ‘chimney boy’ George was forced by his master to climb and clean a chimney in a former Victorian asylum in Fulbourn in 1875.

A young 19th century chimney sweep carrying his brushes, from ‘The Cottager and Artisan: The People’s Own Paper’ published in 1898 by The Religious Tract Society, London

It struggled to escape its narrow confines and 15 minutes after entering it an entire wall had to be knocked down in a desperate rescue attempt.

He was eventually pulled from the chimney, but died soon after – another victim of Victorian child labor, the shameful backbone of the Industrial Revolution through which the wealthy enslaved a reserve infinite consumable young workers.

George’s employer was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six months in prison with hard labor.

Words from a contemporary article on George Brewster.  Photo: Keith Hepell
Words from a contemporary article on George Brewster. Photo: Keith Hepell

The boy’s death, however, proved a vital catalyst for change. When reports in the London newspapers of his investigation were read by the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, he vowed to act and led the successful campaign to get a bill passed through Parliament. It was in September 1875 that the law was passed ending the use of children as “boy climbers” in England.

George was the last climber to die in the country, and his death helped bring about the change that led to the end of all child labor practices in industries such as agriculture, mining and factories.

In 1876 compulsory education for children was recommended and four years later a new Education Act made school attendance compulsory.

Joanna Hudson at what was Fulbourn Asylum.  Photo: Keith Hepell
Joanna Hudson at what was Fulbourn Asylum. Photo: Keith Hepell

Amateur historian Joanna Hudson, a mother of two from Pampisford, came across George’s story three years ago and was moved to launch a campaign to honor his legacy. His first move is to raise money for a blue plaque and negotiations are underway to place it within the grounds of the former Fulbourn Asylum where he died.

Joanna is also raising funds for a marker at her unmarked grave in Mill Road Cemetery and a memorial statue of the ‘Last Climbing Boy’ in Cambridge, representing the plight of abused children in Victorian England.

She said: ‘Over the past two years I have been on a whirlwind journey, uncovering the true story of George Brewster, a seemingly insignificant 11-year-old boy who died unaware that he had changed the lives of thousands of children across the land – a story of enormous historical significance, not just for Cambridgeshire, but for the whole country. When you realize the watershed moment the death of George Brewster brought to changing child labor laws in England, you realize how important his story is and how vital it is that we share it with everyone. world.

Death certificate of George Brewster.  Photo: Keith Hepell
Death certificate of George Brewster. Photo: Keith Hepell

“George Brewster deserves our recognition. I started this campaign to remind people today of the sacrifices and extreme working conditions that Victorian children endured.

“A blue plaque and a commemorative statue would be a powerful reminder of how far we have come since those dark days and that we should not take our child labor rights for granted. It took the tragic death of one of our own children in Cambridgeshire to change the law that everyone now benefits from.

Joanna applied for the Cambridge & District Blue Plaque Scheme, run by the charity Cambridge Past Present & Future, which commemorates significant people and events.

James Littlewood, Managing Director of Cambridge Past, Present & Future
James Littlewood, Managing Director of Cambridge Past, Present & Future

James Littlewood, CEO of the charity, said: “Cambridge Past, Present and Future was intrigued when we received the blue plaque request for George Brewster.

“This is the first blue plaque application we have received for a child. Usually we receive applications for people who have done amazing things in their lives.

“George’s story is different and special. He didn’t have the opportunity to do amazing things in his life, but his death was the catalyst for a change in English law that improved working conditions for all children in England. We think George’s story deserves a blue plaque, so we granted Joanna’s candidacy.

While researching George’s story, Joanna met Mary and Caro of Friends of Mill Road Cemetery (FOMRC), who helped her find George’s final resting place. They laid flowers at his unmarked grave in November 2019. Other members of George’s family, including his father and brothers, are also buried there.

The site of Mill Road Cemetery where George Brewster is buried.  Left to right, Emma Easterbrook, Chair of Friends of Mill Road Cemetery, Diana Cook, Secretary of Parishes Committee, Caro Wilson, Friends of Mill Road Cemetery, and Reverend Margaret Widdess, Chair of Parishes Committee.  Photo: Keith Hepell
The site of Mill Road Cemetery where George Brewster is buried. Left to right, Emma Easterbrook, Chair of Friends of Mill Road Cemetery, Diana Cook, Secretary of Parishes Committee, Caro Wilson, Friends of Mill Road Cemetery, and Reverend Margaret Widdess, Chair of Parishes Committee. Photo: Keith Hepell

Caro, of the FOMRC, and Mary, who also represents the Cambridgeshire Family History Society, said in a joint statement: “The story of George Brewster is important and we were delighted to assist Joanna in her search for the cemetery site. .

“We were very pleased that, recognizing the importance of history, the parish committee and the town council – the two statutory authorities of the cemetery – had authorized some clearance from the site.”

The Cambridge Museum is also supporting the project.

Lucy Walker, Chair of the Trustees, said: “The Museum of Cambridge is pleased to be involved in Joanna’s project to bring the remarkable story of George Brewster to life and show children today the difficult life Victorian children.

The display outside the Cambridgeshire Collection in the Central Library.  Photo: Keith Hepell
The display outside the Cambridgeshire Collection in the Central Library. Photo: Keith Hepell

“We hope to be able to remember the life and times of George and how his death left a legacy for all children in today’s society that should never be forgotten. It’s also a great story for our Capturing Cambridge website, which is an increasingly important digital resource for local history.

Joanna also won the support of Nicholas Shaftesbury, the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury and a direct descendant of the 7th Earl who campaigned for change.

An image of Lord Shaftesbury, from the exhibition at the Central Library.  Photo: Keith Hepell
An image of Lord Shaftesbury, from the exhibition at the Central Library. Photo: Keith Hepell

He said: “During his lifetime, the 7th Earl campaigned tirelessly to help the downtrodden and neglected in society. Perhaps no other cause held his attention more than the plight of the chimney sweep boys. It’s a cause that took him 35 years of campaigning to finally end. It is a tragedy that George and so many others were not saved by the changing of the law, but this plaque will ensure that he will never be forgotten and will serve as a poignant reminder for which we have much reason to be. be grateful.

The Earl plans to travel from his home in Dorset to unveil the blue plaque in a ceremony which it is hoped can take place later this year.

The British Library pop-up exhibition at Cambridge Central Library.  Photo: Keith Hepell
The British Library pop-up exhibition at Cambridge Central Library. Photo: Keith Hepell

Meanwhile, George’s story was one of only three told at the launch of the British Library’s Breaking the News exhibition, which explores what makes an event news, as well as the questions of press freedom and trust through a selection of stories spanning 500 years of news production. in Great Britain.

The story was brought to the fore by the team at the Cambridgeshire Collection, who featured in a video streamed live from the launch of the exhibit in Leeds last Thursday. Contextual presentations of the exhibition are on at Cambridge Central Library until April 8, then will travel to St Neots and Ely Libraries.

A display item in the central library.  Photo: Keith Hepell
A display item in the central library. Photo: Keith Hepell

You can donate to Joanna’s Just Giving fundraising campaign, seeking £1,000, at https://bit.ly/3BUyDix.

Read more

The arch of a Hindu temple looks ready for the Cambridge Garden House

In pictures: Northstowe museum could be created from shipping containers


Source link